GREEN BAY, Wisc. -- In the beginning, the game couldn't have been any better for the New York Giants. Their defense was absolutely dominating the Green Bay Packers. The offense was even moving the ball.
In the end, what beat the Giants was the same thing that beat them all season long: themselves.
Too many drops, too many blown assignments, too many missed opportunities haunted the Giants in their first playoff game in five years, and they ended up letting the Packers hang around too long. And somehow a game they absolutely dominated for the first 26 minutes took a stunning turn and turned into a blowout, 38-13 loss.
"There were a lot of opportunities early on," wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said. "We had all the chances. Instead of six points (in the first half) we could've had 14 points and put the pressure on them. We didn't come out and really make those plays. But there were so many opportunities in the game for it to go the other way."
Beckham, of course, was a big part of those missed opportunities. He only caught four of the 11 passes thrown his direction, and at least three, maybe four of those could be considered drops. His first drop came on a third-down pass deep in Packers territory that led to a punt on the opening drive. And on the second drive, both he and Sterling Shepard dropped passes in the end zone, leaving the Giants to settle for a field goal.
The Giants stalled in the red zone twice in the first half, but thanks to a defense that had played incredible football -- holding the Packers to minus-11 total yards at one point in the second quarter -- the Giants were nursing a 6-0 lead late in the first half. It should've been more, of course. It always should be more with these Giants.
And yet it never is.
"That's football," quarterback Eli Manning said. "You keep playing. I thought we hung in there tough. We had a lot of decent drives, we just didn't make some key plays at times. We didn't execute well enough. We didn't score enough points and that kept them in the game."
And then, almost predictably, the Packers exploded. A lightning-quick touchdown drive late in the second quarter was followed by Aaron Rodgers' amazing (and eerily familiar) Hail Mary touchdown to Randall Cobb at the end of the first half. The Giants answered with a long touchdown pass from Manning to Tavarres King midway through the third quarter that cut it to 14-13, but the Packers were off and running from there.
The Giants' defense certainly deserves some blame for giving up 362 yards and four touchdown passes to Rodgers and for getting shredded by a Packers receiving corps that lost Jordy Nelson early in the game (though to be fair, the Giants lost cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, too). But it's hard to blame the defense for failing to bail out the offense one last time when the defense had been coming the offense's rescues all year.
That's the story of the Giants' season: their anemic offense. A top-10 unit in each of the last two seasons, it sunk to near the bottom of the league this season. And it's not that it couldn't move the ball. Manning threw for 299 yards. It's that New York's yards were empty because of all the mistakes they made in big spots.
"Obviously whenever you don't convert on points and trips to the green zone, and when defense gives us good field position and we're not able to capitalize, obviously that effects the game," receiver Victor Cruz said. "Those early trips to the red zone, if we could've put some points on the board who knows how this game shakes out.
"Obviously we're not happy as a whole. We're all not satisfied with how we performed out there. We know we left a lot out there on the field."
Yes they did. They always have. It's what the Giants have done all season. And it's why they'll be home next weekend while the Packers are moving on to face the top-seeded Dallas Cowboys. This offense, with Manning, Beckham, Cruz and Shepard, hadn't scored more than 20 points since November and it didn't score 30 in a game all year long.
It had far too much talent to be this unproductive. It's as inexplicable as it is inexcusable.
"We didn't make enough plays at critical moments," Manning said. "We just didn't have everything working."
And it's no surprise because all season long they never really did.